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I recently did some research regarding the Six Paramitas or “Perfections” of Buddhism as part of my spiritual course of study. They are called, in summary, the totality of the path to enlightenment according to Buddhist thought. In these simple ideas is the path to not only enlightenment, but also happiness no matter what our present circumstances may be. The Paramitas are as follows:
Each paramita builds on the one before it and maps out a path to enlightenment. For example, while practicing generosity, one begins to address one’s own selfish tendencies which open the way to disciplining one’s self to an ethical way of living that respects all life, not just one’s own. Another important point is the lack of condemnation that exists in the practice of these virtues. It is not failing not to succeed in one’s practice; it is failure not to try. This represents the spirit of Saddhartha Buddha’s teachings regarding the “Middle Road” to enlightenment that is gentle and not extreme in its practice.
Generosity is seen as the easiest of the Paramitas to practice. One can see immediate results from doing so. According to Chan Master Sheng Yen, generosity can be practiced in two modes: with characteristics and without. “With characteristics” is being generous with the expectation of reward. While many may see this as selfish, it is still an act of kindness to another being and that is what really matters. For some, due to where they are in their own development, this is a huge step for them and not to be denounced because it is not altruistic enough. Each of us begins from our own foundation built from our past experiences; what may be easy for one person is monumental for another. Even those who seemingly do not have the ability to be generous due to their financial circumstances are wealthy in other things such as the ability to labor for others as well as the knowledge they have stored up which can be shared. Poverty is a dis-ease that can be cured through giving generously of ourselves to others; whether for compensation or not. The Universe has a way of making sure what comes around goes around.
The other type of generosity is “without characteristics”, according to Sheng Yen. This is giving without the expectation of reward. This not only represents material giving, but also that of wisdom and of understanding and edification. When one understands the interdependence of all things, one understands Dharma, according to the Dalai Lama. When we are able to communicate this truth effectively to others in a way they are able to understand it and apply it to their own lives, we have given a gift beyond price. We have given another being the gift of being able to alleviate their own suffering in a very real way. When one understands how we are all interdependent upon one another, it changes how we look at the world and interact with our fellow beings. It starts us on the path to enlightenment.
The gift of understanding is to be able to meet people where they are. We live in a culture of fear where most beings are in a permanent state of fight or flight. We strive for any means to alleviate our fear and our suffering, but for the most part, nothing helps for more than a moment. Being able to listen to another compassionately and be the means that their suffering is alleviated is another priceless jewel that we are able to give freely of ourselves.
The second Paramita is Morality. At its most basic level, morality is summed up as refraining from committing harm, living virtuously, and acting to the benefit of others. These are called the Three Cumulative Pure Precepts.
In Buddhism, there are two ways to practice these precepts. One can practice the way of personal liberation (shravaka), or the practice liberating all sentient beings or the way of the bodhisattva. Neither way is better or worse than the other; it all depends on where the individual being is in their course of spiritual development.
Hand in hand with the Three Pure Precepts are the Five Basic Buddhist Precepts: not stealing, not killing, not lying, not committing sexual misconduct, and not taking intoxicants. It is not necessary for one to adopt all of these, only what one is able to without causing undue suffering for the individual.
According to Buddhist belief, the shravaka path, or taking up one or more of the Buddhist precepts for one’s own good, only lasts for one lifetime while that of the bodhisattva is continuous no matter how many incarnations one manifests in. This is due to the belief that taking up the Buddhist precepts in one’s present incarnation only produces only the enlightenment of the present incarnation. Once it ends, so does the virtue gained through the singular manifestation of these virtues.
The bodhisattva vows manifest over multiple lifetimes. Instead of just making a connection with the present incarnation, they become connected with the true mind of the individual being that goes beyond the flesh. While the shravaka path is mostly concerned with renunciation (i.e escaping suffering, removing desire, etc.), the bodhisattva path, while also involving renunciation, is more focused on altruism and benefiting others.
The third Paramita is Patience. This is described as the “pacified mind and body.” According to Buddhist thought, when one has a pacified mind and body, one experiences well-being and is better able to face the challenges life presents one.
There are three kinds of patience according to Sheng Yen: “patience with those who wish to harm us, patience with regard to the environment, and patience in enduring the dharmas.” If we do not return harm to those who wish to harm us, we are able to avoid causing harm to others. This may seem like we are surrendering, but in reality, we are protecting ourselves and others from further suffering. Further, when faced with conflict, instead of responding to conflict with force, we turn our opponent’s force against them by responding with wisdom and compassion.
Patience with regard to the environment extends to enduring pain that comes in the form of natural manifestations such as natural disasters, storms, etc., but also extend to the “storms” within our own bodies in the form of ailments and illnesses. The body is the manifestation of the elements on the micro-scale and therefore can manifest the same issues the environment can on the macro-level.
Patience in enduring the dharmas includes all experience; be they pleasurable or painful. This is inclusive of the two previous types of patience mentioned above. The secret to this type of patience is the cultivation of emptiness.
When practicing patience, one practices emptiness. Emptiness speaks to the impermanence of all experiences and phenomenon. When we embrace emptiness, we come to the place of selflessness. Here we are able to act for the benefit of others without regard for our own well-being, yet at the same time nurturing our own being through virtuous behaviors. Cultivating patience is a long process, but a worthwhile one.
The fourth Paramita is Diligence. It is a zeal for living and an acceptance of the work that needs to be done. When one diligently follows the path, one is not afflicted with boredom or laziness; each is a form of suffering. When one is busy, one is generally happy and when one is busy to the benefit of others, that happiness is magnified a thousandfold.
Sheng Yen discusses three types of diligence: “diligence that is like armor, diligence that is able to gather all virtues, and diligence that benefits all beings.” Diligence that is like armor allows one to overcome all obstacles. It sees no obstructions and no enemies and therefore, is unstoppable.
Diligence that gathers all virtues finds any and all opportunities to practice. It applies all experiences be they physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual to the practice of virtue. No matter what one experiences, one is filled with the inclination to practice virtue in every moment and every breath.
The third type of diligence is that which benefits all beings. This is the practice of compassion. It is the sincere desire to free other beings from suffering without anything required in return.
The fifth Paramita is Meditation. This involves the cultivation of the “unscattered mind”, or one of “no taste.” Very simply, this means having no preference for the sublime state of deep concentration nor the bliss of transcendent meditation, but simply “being in the moment” at all times. To give a full commentary on this concept is beyond the scope of this writing, however, the summary of it is being in a constant state of “just so.”
The sixth Paramita is Wisdom. The essence of Wisdom is understanding the law of cause and effect . Once this understanding is embraced, ignorance departs along with suffering, We are able to live as vital beings that are a blessing to all we encounter.
So what does this mean to the Ninzuwu practitioner?
Ninzuwu, like Buddhism and many other paths, is concerned with the cultivation of virtue. It is through cultivating virtue, we remove the obstructions that separate us from the Divine World. Through purity, we experience evolution of our divine selves so that it may once again rule our experience.
These “perfections” are universal, in my opinion. By cultivating each of them in their time, one walks the gentle path to understanding, wisdom, and enlightenment. More importantly, one experiences liberation from suffering and the joy of service to others which ultimately benefits all beings a thousandfold.
Ben McInnis, G.EA, FGDS